Monday, May 18, 2015

Teacher Appreciation--The Debt We Owe

 photo by flickr
May is Teacher Appreciation Month. If I had my way we'd extend this appreciation to the whole year. Exaggeration? Not at all.

Most of us would agree that without some teacher(s) along the way our lives would have turned out very differently. The late Loren Eiseley, anthropologist and fine writer said there was one of his teachers he called "the magician." Coming out of an impoverished background he wrote that one special teacher
took the magic wand of herself and worked a miracle.

Teacher Appreciation Month nudges me to take a trip down memory lane. Living with two parents that lived knee deep in the depression, both dropped out of school to work on the farm. They never got past the eighth grade. So in our house,  teachers were way up in my parents' thinking. They would not have dreamed of challenging a teacher. In their minds, teachers were always right--and were due all the respect we could give them.

So  I have been thinking of these magicians in my own life that have made my own journey special and meaningful. I still remember my first grade teacher. What she looked like. The freckles on her face. Those wire-rimmed glasses that glittered in the sunlight that streamed through the windows. How she held my hand as we walked down the hall. I don't remember a single thing she ever said--but I loved her. She was the teacher and she cared about me and all the others.

I remember a teacher in college who invited our class into her living room in the evenings to discuss  books. She didn't have to do that. She made a difference.  Later in Seminary one of my teachers stopped me in the hall one day and just asked,  "Have you ever considered writing?" I never had until that day.

But of all my teachers I still remember my High School Spanish and Journalism teacher. The yellow school bus would stop across the street from the mill village where we lived. We  would ride forty minutes across town to the county high school. This particular teacher took a special interest. She, too would ask the question: "Have you ever thought of..." And she would send me away with dreams in my head I did not have before her questions. Nobody in my family had ever been to college. And so she kept asking me if I was going away to school. College? Me--college? We don't have any money.  How could I possibly go to college? She kept asking me of and over until the seed she planted called hope slowly emerged and began to grow.

Without her questions and her patience with fifteen-sixteen-seventeen year olds--I probably would have taken a road far different. I knew little about her. She was from North Carolina. She was divorced. Sixty years ago she would have made a pittance. I never knew about her hopes or her own particular dreams. I do remember the question she kept quietly asking: "What if..."

As graduation drew near--she told a friend of mine and me that she wanted to take us out for a celebration. This teacher wanted to come to our houses some evening and pick us up. She kept her word. I was sitting on the porch when she drove up with my friend. My heart was beating fast. We were not only eating out--but we were going to a great restaurant I had only heard about. It was a glorious evening. And that night was really a symbol of what she had been doing for years--caring and letting us know we were important.

From time to time I have tried to find her. I wanted to tell her what fingerprints she left on my life are still there after all these years. I never found her. But on this month of teacher appreciation I remember my own special magician. She made it happen with her care, her attentiveness, her laughter and  her questions.

I know there are teachers that cramp students' minds and hearts. I  know there are those that carry no magic wand and activate few students' dreams. But across this state and country we owe an enormous debt to our teachers. They are not paid nearly enough for what they do. They work long hours and get little appreciation. They lug home brief cases full of papers to be filled out and turned in to headquarters.

I would bet there has been some magician in your life. Think back. Who asked: "What if..." Who told you that you could do it when you had just about given up. Who waved that wand over and over until it took for you?

Parents, school boards and legislators need to take a long and hard look at the greatest challenge we have. It is not abortion, guns,  homeland security, our crumbling infrastructure or how much we pay our coaches.  These are all important issues. But unless we elevate those in those little classrooms who keep asking "What if..." we will be poorer indeed.

photo by Mike Sansone / flickr

--Roger Lovette /

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